Hazel and Holly — Elder Night, Part Two
Previous: Elder Night, Part One
“Hazel?” Holly whispered, but there was no reply. When had it gotten so dark? She had been so shocked over that creepy tea-bearing bat-thing, and then the next thing she knew the room had turned dark and cold.
She put out a hand a summoned a little ball of flame. It was always more difficult like that—calling the fire from nothing. But she didn’t have a choice. She was just glad it worked, even though the darkness that had been pushed back seemed like nothing at all. It was still so dark, and all Holly could see in the corner of her eye were shadowed silhouettes that seemed to vanish as soon as she looked at them.
“Hazel,” she said again, louder now as she found her nerve. Someone touched her arm and she cried out and leapt back. She reached for a pinecone, then Hemlock stepped into her tiny circle of light and she relaxed.
“What’s happened?” she whispered.
“Elder happened.” His brow furrowed—he looked angry. Hemlock always seemed so collected; seeing him angry just concerned Holly even more.
He shook his head. “I don’t know.” He patted his pockets and pulled out a silver watch. He spoke a spell and threw it in the air, and the watch erupted into a ball of light, out of which sprung a small winged sprite. The fairy caught the glowing watch by its chain and flitted around the room with it. The darkness—still thick and heavy—was pushed back a little, illuminating tapestried walls that now looked foreign and sterile.
“Over here,” Hemlock said, waving a hand towards the middle of the room.
The sprite flitted over to where he pointed. The darkness receded, and where Hazel had been standing was now only a vague, shadowed form, as if made from mist and midnight. A similar form sat on a nearby sofa, exactly where Hawthorn had been sitting.
Holly gasped and clapped a hand over her mouth. She extinguished her flame—it wasn’t doing any good anyway—and walked up to the shadow that seemed to be Hazel. She reached out to touch her, cringing at the way the air chilled the closer she got. But before she could, Hemlock grabbed her hand and pulled her away. He shook his head—his brow still furrowed—but Holly could see the fear that lingered in his eyes.
Holly brought out a pine cone. She’d ignite the thing and throw it on one of those plush couches. That should get the chill out of the room. But then a narrow strip of a panel in a wall pulled back, showing a pair of suspicious eyes.
“What do you want?” Elder said, his voice muffled from the wall that stood between them.
“I want my sister!” Holly shouted. “You give her back or I’ll torch your house!”
“You try it and I’ll set Augustus after you!”
Holly cringed as she suppressed a whimper. “You wouldn’t…” That thing just wasn’t natural.
“I would. You watch me!”
Holly wrung her hands as Hemlock walked up to the panel on the wall. He leaned down to meet the eyes that peered out at them.
“We know where you live, Elder,” Hemlock said, his voice surprisingly calm. “I think the Conclave would be quite interested to learn of your… research, down here in Sarnum. In fact, you’ve been out of the Grove so long, everyone would be so thrilled to know of your whereabouts that I’m sure they’d all flock down here within days to see you.”
Silence hung in the room.
“What do you want?” Elder said again.
“I’d like Hazel and my brother back to start, and then I’d like us all to sit down and discuss matters quietly and civilly, as I’m sure we are all capable of doing.”
“Your Hazel didn’t seem capable of it to me.”
“You took her by surprise. If you knew her, then you’d know why she was so upset.”
“Well, I don’t know her. I don’t know any of you, and I don’t think I care to.”
“Very well,” Hemlock said. “I’ll return to the Grove and give the Conclave your regards.” He turned to leave.
“Wait!” Elder squeaked.
Hemlock turned back around, but the eyes in the wall had gone. After a moment, a door opened and Elder shuffled in. He scowled at Hemlock and Holly. Then he raised his arms, spoke some words, and the darkness lifted. The shadows that had clung to Hazel melted away, and the chill in the air dissipated. Hawthorn’s shadows also faded, and he was once again sitting on a sofa with a half-eaten sandwich in his hand and a befuddled look on his unglamored face.
“Hazel!” Holly said and ran up and hugged her.
Hazel shivered as the dreaded cold faded from her body, and then the next thing she knew, Holly was there, hugging her.
Feeling disoriented, Hazel put her arms around Holly as she looked around. Hemlock stood nearby. He let out a breath and gave her a crooked smile, then moved his gaze to the floor. Hawthorn blinked at a sandwich he held, as if mystified by its presence. Then she saw Elder, and the disorientation faded as she remembered what happened. She let go of Holly and took a step back. “What did you do?”
Elder scrunched up his face. “Protecting me and my family. Just when you think you’re safe somewhere, a roving band of H-names comes into your home and starts threatening you. How’d you like it if I came to your house, uninvited I might add, and throttled you, eh?”
Hazel looked down at her hands. He was a necromancer—an abomination—she shouldn’t feel bad for what she had done. But she did. “I’m… sorry,” she said, her voice tight. “You took me by surprise, and my experience with necromancy hasn’t exactly been pleasant.”
Elder grunted. “That’s pretty much what he said.” He nodded towards Hemlock. He studied Hazel and the others a while before letting out a breath and waving at a sofa. “Well, if you want to talk, let’s talk and get this over with.” He marched over to the tray of sandwiches, grabbed one and took a big bite.
Hazel, Holly, and Hemlock all exchanged glances before filing over to a sofa and sat down. Hawthorn seemed to have reacquainted himself with his sandwich and resumed eating it.
“So, you’re looking for someone,” Elder said.
Hazel nodded. “My father. He’s also a necromancer.”
“And you think I know him because of that? That we belong to some kind of club or something?”
“No,” Hazel said, taking extra care to keep her voice calm. “We didn’t know you were a necromancer at all. Someone told us you might know who teaches the… discipline, and so that’s why we’re here.”
Elder grunted again and took another bite of his sandwich. He fell quiet as he chewed, and Hazel clenched her hands together as she waited.
“Say I did know someone,” he said, “what happens then?”
“We’d go and talk to him… or her… or… it?” Hazel cringed inwardly. She hoped it wasn’t an ‘it.’ She couldn’t believe she was even having this conversation.
Elder chuckled and waggled his sandwich at her. “Oh, no. I’ve seen the way you talk, and I’m not looking to inflict that on anyone. Some of us in this world still believe in decency. You stay here tonight and think about what you’ve done, and then tomorrow I’ll think more about helping you.”
Hazel opened her mouth to protest being called indecent by a necromancer when the rest of his words sank in. “What? We’re not staying here.”
Elder chuckled. “You’re free to go if you’d like, but I’d not recommend it. You got here late. Clock’s now past twelve.” He pointed at a little silver clock on the mantlepiece. “Trust me, you don’t want to be out there past twelve.”
Hazel’s stomach turned leaden. “Why not? What’s out there?”
Elder gave her a wry grin. “Let’s just say that I’m not the only necromancer in town. Far from it, and not everyone’s companions are as pleasant as my Augustus.”
Hazel swallowed as she struggled to keep her face calm.
“You’ll have to double up,” Elder said. “I’ve not got rooms for all of you. But I’m sure that’s all right, isn’t it?”
Feeling numb, it was all Hazel could do to nod.
He smiled, though his eyes lacked their previous warmth. “Excellent. Augustus will show you the way.”
Holly whimpered before clapping a hand over her mouth. “Hazel…” she whispered.
But Hazel just shook her head. What could they do? She didn’t think Elder was lying, though how could she be sure? Should she risk it? And if he was telling the truth…
“It’s just for one night,” she whispered.
Holly bit her lip and nodded, her blue eyes filling with tears.
Hazel felt wretched. What had she gotten them into? She took Holly’s hand and silently followed Augustus as he chittered his way up the shadowed stairs.
Next: The Long Dark